There's a lot of Divinity: Original Sin DNA in Baldur's Gate 3, but if there's one major distinction between Larian's last RPG and its new one, it's dice. Dungeons & Dragons is built on dice, D6s and D8s and D20s and all the other weird-shaped ones in between. The dice control your destiny. Larian took that to heart when it set out to make the sequel to Baldur's Gate, making dice much more than the driving force behind combat. Baldur's Gate 3 makes you roll for big narrative decisions, in what I think is the best use of dice in any D&D game I've played.
"The dice are super central. The feeling that everything is rolling on dice, that maybe you can manipulate it to get an advantage, that's as D&D as it gets," says Larian founder Swen Vincke.
RPGs have long given you dialogue options based on certain character traits and skills. In Skyrim, for example, your ability to persuade NPCs is based on your speech skill, but the game doesn't tell you what threshold you need to hit in a given conversation. There's no randomness, though. In Morrowind, by comparison, your chance to admire or intimidate someone is governed by an invisible die roll modified by your stats. Mass Effect is much more straightforward—you don't have to worry about failing a skill check, because dialogue options will be grayed out if you don't have enough Paragon or Renegade points to select them.
Like Morrowind, a lot of videogame RPGs hide the dice rolls that determine whether you pass or fail, figuring you don't really need to see the math of a D20 roll modified by a bunch of stats. Baldur's Gate 3 takes the opposite approach to better emulate tabletop D&D. When you're choosing dialogue options that require some persuasive skills, it literally makes you roll for it. A big D20 pops up on the screen, with a number above it showing the number you need to hit. Then you grab hold of the die with your mouse and spin it with a flick of the wrist.
It's a simple animation, but so much more satisfying than simply clicking a dialogue option and then passing or failing based on an invisible number. It also makes these decisions way more dramatic. The die spins. You watch, holding your breath for three seconds. What's it going to land on? No whammies, no whammies—Yes!
The roll is simplified a little bit from tabletop D&D. The number you need to hit to pass the skill check, which is labeled as "target" above your die, automatically takes into account your character's bonuses (or penalties) and whatever you're rolling against. But it retains the drama of the die-rolling experience. And not just in dialogue sequences—you have to do skill checks for other actions in Baldur's Gate, too.
"We wanted to make the dice central, because that's what it is in the tabletop," Vincke says. "We didn't want to hide it, but at the same time we didn't want to scare people with it either. So we had to come up with a system that was going to allow you to do all those passive skill checks. They're happening all the time, these checks, and we have to visualize them in a way you can understand. But also active rolls—in general they advertise there's going to be a permutation here that you can choose between."
In the two hour demo I saw, I'd occasionally notice a "passive" check play out on the screen when Vincke wandered close to something that requires a perception check for his character to spot. A small icon would appear, and if the check passed, something would appear, like a hidden lever in a dungeon.
Vincke was playing vampire spawn Astarion, who had the option to sneak up on a party member at night for a little midnight snack. He had to pass a stealth skill check to drink her blood, and then had to pass a wisdom save to stop, rather than letting his bloodlust overpower him. I really like that reversal, because it shows you'll sometimes have to roll to avoid the unforseen consequences of your actions. Skill checks aren't just for doing what you want.
Later in the demo Vincke rolled to successfully pickpocket someone and lift a key from their pocket. In another nice touch, when you land a critical hit in combat, a golden D20 briefly appears on the screen to add a little 'Hell yeah" to your attack.
Together these little details add up to make Baldur's Gate 3 feel well-grounded in D&D mechanics, and will hopefully assuage players who think it looks too similar to Divinity: Original Sin 2. I think seeing the dice roll play out will make failure a bit less frustrating. But mostly I just love the idea of making dice rolls tactile. Since Larian's games already support controllers, I hope they go the next step and add support for the rumble motor in the Steelseries Rival mouse. Let me feel that roll!